Every so often, something occurs in our society to mark the end of the way things were and the beginning of something new. More often than not, that’s a good thing. What has my attention at this moment is not.

All my working years … all of them … no matter the employer and no matter the job, I tried to do my best for the company and, in nearly all cases, the company treated me well. That was true in the military; that was true in many years and several careers in civilian life.

In sum, it was loyalty. Something very simple. Something you gave and expected in return. Give the best you could and the effort would be rewarded by recognition, promotion, continued employment. Not something you could really put a dollar value on. It just “was.”

While there may be small exceptions, in much of today’s workplace, the term “loyalty” has been all but eliminated. Nobody goes to work for the phone company right out of school, for example, and expects to be there for an entire career. Even the professional military is subject to layoffs. And, because of current dire economic circumstances in most states, when the 2011 legislative sessions end next Spring, so will employment of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of government employees who thought their jobs were “recession proof.”

While I knew this disappearance of employer-employee loyalty was afoot intellectually, it came into sharp focus a few days ago in, of all places, Idaho Falls, ID.

There are two television stations in Idaho Falls, owned by separate corporations. Long ago, I spent a few years employed by one of them. They’ve been direct competitors since the ‘50’s. Head-to-head.

Now, they’ve done something that was unthinkable all those years. Each has fired about half the people in its news department and combined what was left into one. Oh, each outlet will continue broadcasting its “own” news programs but they’ll be the product of one … much smaller … news crew. All other head-to-head operations will be the same as before.

Imagine the Ford dealer and the Chevrolet dealer in your town … rivals for 60 years … firing half their shop staffs and putting the remainder into one shop. You WILL see that. It’s happening already.

But, back to Idaho Falls. A TV news department is made up of the a news director, editors, camera people, reporters and maybe producers. While a high cost operation for the station, it (a) is required by the FCC to operate “in the public interest” of the community and (b) is the highest image for the local station among viewers and advertisers, more often than not getting the highest prices for ads in local times.

Whether it’s the TV stations or the car dealers, imagine what it must have been like for employees to find that, after years of doing their jobs and showing loyalty to their employers, giving their best work and carrying the company flag(s), somebody made a bookkeeping decision cutting so many “X’s” from the organizational chart. Not names. “X’s.”

Now, I’m not a Pollyanna. Business is business. I know that. But, maybe before you were in the workforce, there was a time when ownership was local and the owner and the employees had a face-to-face relationship that benefitted both. For more and more Americans, it’s not that way today.

And therein, I think, is why loyalty as an expected quality in workers is disappearing. Civility, too, at times. Many businesses … even in small Idaho, Oregon or Washington communities … are corporately owned now. Decisions aren’t so much in the hands of local bosses as they are in some remote accounting office where profit-and-loss is the name of corporate thinking. The local person in charge may still have eyeball-to-eyeball contact nearly daily. But corporate sees just so many “X’s” and “O’s” on the P& L printouts. Eyeball contact there is between the CEO and the shareholders. And loyalty? Well, it’s nice, but not necessary.

In my younger years, I had all sorts of dread about getting older. Now that the inevitable has happened and I’m not on the frontlines of daily employment, much of that dread is gone. In fact, I’m actually glad things were the way they were then and that I don’t have to try dealing with what is often mislabeled as “progress.”

My loyalty and best efforts kept me with some employers a long time. Their choice. And their loyalty and best efforts on my behalf kept our relationship warm and working. My choice.

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